Imagine: A church for those who don’t trust church

“Imagine”

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

Copyright JJM Schreiber, 2011
Copyright JM Schreiber, 2011

Church music? Apparently and rightly so. Last week I emerged from the church I have been attending, despairing that a deep ambivalence about my own ability to connect with faith may stand in the way of my search for community. This morning I remembered why, if there is a church that I can connect with, the one I have been attending may be as close as I can get. John Lennon’s Imagine, performed by a soloist set the framework for the reflections of the pastor.

Imagine? Yes, imagine hearing a pastor admit that in the 25 years since his ordination in the United Church of Canada, he never thought he would be looking at the works of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and think, maybe they have a point there. One does not have to look far to see how religion is perpetuating hatred, within families and communities, between ethic groups and countries. And it is not a new phenomenon. Is the problem religion? An atheist does not hesitate to answer, but what causes a pastor to ponder? And what does that mean for churches like Calgary’s Hillhurst United? My own anxieties about faith aside, it is a church that practices what it preaches: welcome and advocacy for the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalized; outreach and full acceptance of everyone regardless of age, ability, sexuality or gender identity. Yet the pastor, John Pentland, is accustomed to meeting newcomers who share that they have no problem telling someone that they are gay, but don’t want anyone to know they go to church.

Is religion always at odds with all that could be positive and affirming about faith?

I am not sure yet. But I did spend Saturday at the church helping set up for a performance by Australian-Canadian queer trans artist, Sunny Drake. In the evening as the church hosted homeless families in the gymnasium, the pews of the Sanctuary were filled with a diverse audience treated to an outrageously funny performance about the trials and tribulations of a gay transgendered man trying to quit his addiction to romance. Honest in language and content that one would not generally not expect to find in a church, but together with the panel discussion that followed, this partnership with the city’s only queer theatre, Third Street Theatre, offers a vital opportunity to improve communication and understanding within and beyond the LGBTQ community. And yet another indication that at this church Affirming means much more than hanging a rainbow flag in the corner.

As someone who often feels as alienated within the LGBTQ community as within a larger community of faith, this weekend was an important indication of just what a church that seeks to embrace rather than exclude, can be.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

8 thoughts on “Imagine: A church for those who don’t trust church”

  1. Sounds amazing – pastor and performer both. I’m so glad, I just wish it had left you feeling better though. Thanks for the gold medal – wish you weren’t getting them for anxiety and stress 😦

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    1. They were both really great experiences and I had a lot of opportunity to talk to Sunny, he was brilliant. They are good things. The bleakness is in me – that’s the depression.

      I am not giving up though, just that loneliness hangover I always get.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Churches like this are inspiring – and remind us that the problem is not religion itself necessarily but the practitioners and interpreters who turn it to narrow exclusionary ends. (I’m agnostic, if not atheist, but was brought up in a church.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, faith (and atheism is to me a faith) in action is the key. I struggle with what faith means for me and, in my philosophical moments I do believe that faith is meant to be a dialogue with the universe. Not sure what that makes me.

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      1. You sound a bit like a friend of mine. She is a committed Christian but defines faith in a broad spiritual way, if I’ve understood her correctly – by this I mean her understanding of God. I’ll have to think about atheism being a faith…

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      2. My sense of faith is one that involves questioning and doubt as essential ingredients. In that sense I suppose atheism can be much more confirmed and dogmatic. I have a book called Believing Again or something (I have yet to read it but I heard the author on the radio). He looks at people who return to faith including TS Eliot and WH Auden. For Auden in particular, returning to faith implied the ability to not believe again. I think that’s me, one foot on the threshold. Someday there is a blog post there…

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      3. Yes, I think it’s the questioning that means at heart I’m agnostic … though when people tell me I shouldn’t sit on the fence I have to fall over into the atheist side! I look forward to your post – on day.

        Liked by 1 person

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